PARK MANOR — Leon Holmes was homeless at age 13. He knows what it feels like to be hungry.
So Holmes, who is the manager of Chicago Wingz Around the World, 557 E. 75th St., has given away chicken dinners from noon to 2 p.m. every Sunday for the last seven months.
Holmes said up to 60 people show up each week, although he expects that number to grow as the weather gets warmer.
"You can be so hungry you cannot think straight, but you can hear your stomach grumbling," said Holmes, 41, a single father of 14 children. "And I know if a person don't have anything, they are going to go out here and try to take something from someone. That's why I started feeding the homeless every Sunday."
The homeless are welcome to eat at the restaurant, play board games or watch TV, Holmes said. Each person gets a four-piece chicken dinner, which includes cole slaw and a slice of bread.
Not knowing whether a person is homeless, Holmes said meals are given out on an honor basis.
"Who am I to judge a person? But I tell a person, 'If you are not really homeless, you are taking food away from someone who really needs it,' " said Holmes, who lives in south suburban Frankfort.
Holmes, who pays for the chicken given away, said the restaurant's owner supports his volunteer work.
"I couldn't tell you how much I spend because I really don't know," Holmes said. "I don't keep track of the amount because you can't put a price tag on helping people."
Holmes, an ex-offender, said he hoped giving away free chicken dinners encourages business owners to do "something to help the community."
More jobs are needed in the black community, Holmes said.
"I hired two former homeless men, and I will hire more if the opportunity presents itself," Holmes said. "We have to spread the love. That's what it's all about."
One of the men he hired was Dannell Graham, 48, who works as a part-time janitor at the restaurant and is a self-employed painter.
The Chatham resident said he's forever grateful to Holmes for helping him get back on his feet.
"Drugs led to me being homeless for two to three years. But I am no longer homeless, and I no longer do drugs," Graham said. "[Holmes] gave me an opportunity to show my skills as a painter. I now clean up and paint for two beauty salons thanks to Mr. Holmes."
Gregory Jones, 42, is another former homeless man now working at the restaurant. He started last week as a cook.
"I was homeless for about six months due to an eviction. Since working here I have learned how to clean, cook, cut up chicken, whatever is needed," said Jones, of Chatham. "I feel better about myself now that I have a job."
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